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7 of the best places to see wild (and not-so-wild) reindeer

If you want to see Rudolph and co yourself – whether in the wild or in a conservation environment – you can’t go wrong with these destinations…

Finnish Lapland reindeer ready for sledding (Shutterstock)

Reindeer (or caribou, as the non-domesticated North American reindeer is known) aren’t always easy to see in the wild. Often, your best chance of spotting one is to visit a reserve dedicated to looking after these majestic, and undeniably festive, creatures.

That said, if you find yourself in the right part of the world, a wild sighting is totally possible and incredibly rewarding. So, don’t give up the ghost: there are chances to marvel at, engage with and even care for reindeer in the Arctic Circle, North America and even in the UK.

Here are the best places to see reindeer…

1. Swedish Lapland

A reindeer in the snowy Swedish Lapland (Shutterstock)

A reindeer in the snowy Swedish Lapland (Shutterstock)

There are a reported 300,000 reindeer currently living in Sweden, which certainly suggests you’ve got a good chance of seeing at least one yourself.

Swedish Lapland is your obvious port of call. In Lapland, reindeer form part of the way of life for the Sami people, a 170,000-strong indigenous group who live deep in the Arctic north: not just in Sweden, but also Norway, Finland and even Russia. Their land is called Sápmi.

Here, reindeer herding is commonplace, and has been for hundreds of years. There are countless opportunities to get close to them. Nutti Sami Siida, in particular, offers a sensational reindeer sledding experience. 

2. Cairngorms Reindeer Centre, Scotland

Reindeer in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland (Shutterstock)

Reindeer in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland (Shutterstock)

One of Wanderlust’s best snow and ice experiences, the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre, located in the eponymous national park, is a must for those hoping to see reindeer. Especially if you don't want to embrace Arctic temperatures.

The centre offers a guided walk through the Cairngorms hills every day (except during the biting winter month of January, and the beginning of February), to help wildlife lovers see the area’s 150-strong reindeer herd roam free.

Once back at the centre, you may have the opportunity to feed the reindeer and stroke them. If you do, make sure your follow your guide’s instructions.

3. Svalbard, Norway

A wild Svalbard reindeer (Shutterstock)

A wild Svalbard reindeer (Shutterstock)

There’s an abundance of wild reindeer-spotting opportunities in Norway. On the archipelago of Svalbard, located between the North Pole and Norway's mainland, you're in prime position for a truly unique sighting opportunity.

You’ll have the chance to meet the smallest species of reindeer, appropriately named the Svalbard reindeer. Depending on their sex, they weigh between 56kg and 90kg, which is much smaller than reindeer found elsewhere (roughly 80kg to 120kg for females, or 160kg to 180kg for males).

Svalbard reindeer don’t tend to travel in large herds, either. Usually, you can expect to see single reindeer (not literally) flying solo, or very small groups.They’re found all over Svalbard, so you won’t be struggling to find the exact location. You won’t, however, find them on any of the smaller, neighbouring islands.

4. Denali National Park, Alaska

Caribou before Mount Denali, Alaska (Shutterstock)

Caribou before Mount Denali, Alaska (Shutterstock)

A reported 750,000 reindeer (or, as Alaskans would say, ‘caribou’) live across Alaska, some of which can be found out in the wilderness.

So, where to begin? One wild sighting spot worth visiting anyway is Denali National Park, where an approximate 3,000 caribou roam. If nothing else, this national park offers absolutely breathtaking views. Even Simon Reeve found himself flabbergasted during a recent excursion.

Alaska’s official website offers plenty of must-visits for those seeking caribou: the Kenai Peninsula, and highways north of Fairbanks top the list. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge offers a great chance, too. That said, you don’t need to go wild: The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre is another to consider.

5. Inuvik, Canada

Reindeer in Inuvik, Canada (Shutterstock)

Reindeer in Inuvik, Canada (Shutterstock)

Is this Canada’s version of the Great Migration? It just might be… around 3,000 reindeer pass through Inuvik in the Northwest Territories of Canada during their winter to summer migration.  

The Mackenzie Delta Reindeer Herd, as they’re known, settled in this northerly Canadian region over 80 years ago, after caribou populations started to fall into serious decline. Fortunately, to address the issue, 3,500 were purposefully migrated from – you probably guessed it – Alaska. The herd has remained a similar size ever since.

Temps can drop to -30°C in this neck of the woods, so you'll need to be prepared with seriously warm gear, and have on hand an expert guide. Tundra North Tours offer a four-day Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk experience.

6. Finnish Lapland, Finland

Finnish reindeer ready to sleigh! (Shutterstock)

Finnish reindeer ready to sleigh! (Shutterstock)

Reindeer and Finnish Lapland seem perfectly in sync. After all, Lapland is the home of Father Christmas, and who pulls along Santa’s sleigh? It’s probably no surprise that there are an abundance of opportunities to ride in a reindeer-led sleigh here. 

Raitola is in Rovaniemi, ideal if you’re staying central to Finnish Lapland’s Christmassy attractions. If you’re keen to explore more of Lapland, Kopara Reindeer Park and Jaakkola Reindeer Farm are two trusted options.

For a more local-led, authentic experience witnessing the reindeer (or simply one WITHOUT all the snow and sub-zero temperatures), Visit Natives offer tours of the Sami reindeer spring migration, during April and May. 

7. Tromsø, Norway

A traditionally-dressed Sami woman alongside a reindeer, in Tromsø, Norway (Shutterstock)

A traditionally-dressed Sami woman alongside a reindeer, in Tromsø, Norway (Shutterstock)

Tromsø, perhaps best known as a cracking Northern Lights destinations, is also a brilliant place to see reindeer. As part of Norwegian Lapland, it too has Sami residents – and their herds of reindeer – living in its Arctic north.

There are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in Sami culture, experience reindeer sledding and even feed reindeer, with Tromsø Lapland’s guided tours. Most tours operate from November to March, so wrap up warm, and keep your fingers crossed for a breathtaking Aurora Borealis sighting, too...

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